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Does Declining Popular Identification with State Governments Undermine the Case for Federalism?

In their important new book criticizing federalism, Malcolm Feeley and Edward Rubin argue that federalism (defined as constitutional guarantees for state autonomy) is unnecessary in the modern US in part because modern Americans no longer feel any major sense of identification with state governments. Feeley and Rubin concede that federalism might be a useful institution in societies where state boundaries coincide with major ethnic or religious divisions. For example, Canadian federalism allows the French-speaking minority to have an autonomous enclave in Quebec, where they can avoid domination by the English-speaking majority. French-speaking Quebecers identify with Quebec as much or more so than with the Canadian federal government. By contrast, Feeley and Rubin claim, most modern Americans identify as "Americans" first and foremost and have little or no loyalty to their states. I live in Virginia, but I feel no meaningful attachment to the state government in Richmond. My loyalty to the state of Massachusetts, where I grew up, is largely limited to rooting for Boston sports teams.

With a few exceptions such as Mormon identification with Utah and native Hawaiians' affiliation with Hawaii, Feeley and Rubin are largely correct in concluding that modern Americans feel little loyalty to their states. But they are wrong to claim that this undermines the case for federalism. Indeed, in one important respect it actually strengthens it. As I have discussed in various articles (e.g. here and here), one of the main benefits of federalism is interjurisdictional competition. States compete with each other to attract taxpaying workers and businesses; this competition gives them incentives to adopt good policies that will be appealing to the population, and also promotes desirable innovation in public policy. A state that makes a beneficial innovation will have a leg up on its competitors. The ability of citizens to "vote with their feet" is one of the main advantages of federalism. Obviously, foot voting is difficult or impossible in a situation where there is a unitary federal policy that applies to the whole country. In that situation, we can only vote with our feet by leaving the United States entirely.

As John McGinnis and I explained in this 2004 article, declining public identification with state governments actually increases the benefits of foot voting. A citizen who strongly identifies with Virginia might hesitate to leave even if another state is otherwise vastly more attractive due to its superior public policies. But a person who feels little or no loyalty to her state won't suffer from any such inhibitions. To the extent that modern Virginians are more willing to leave than those of 100 or 200 years ago, state governments elsewhere have stronger incentives to woo them, and Virginia's state government has stronger incentives to adopt good policies that will convince them to stay. Once we recognize the importance of voting with your feet as a major benefit of federalism, it turns out that declining loyalty to state governments actually strengthens the case for limiting the scope of federal power.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Does Declining Popular Identification with State Governments Undermine the Case for Federalism?
  2. Federalism vs. Decentralization:
Putting Two and Two...:

As I have discussed in various articles (e.g. here and here), one of the main benefits of federalism is interjurisdictional competition. States compete with each other to attract taxpaying workers and businesses; this competition gives them incentives to adopt good policies that will be appealing to the population, and also promotes desirable innovation in public policy.


Would that it were so. I suppose a case could be made for encouraging good policy, but far too many jurisdictions adopt policies that are good only in the short-term. It's all well and good to lower taxes, but too often the resulting rapid growth creates long-term problems and local coffers cannot cover the costs. I'm always amazed to watch conservative areas invite Californication.

It also suprises me to see those who appreciate tradition praise the dismantling of community and family, as individuals roam hither and yon in search of employment.
4.16.2009 2:15am
David Welker (www):
I am not discounting your "voting with your feet" theory in its entirety. But, I think two points are relevant to it and significantly weaken it:

(1) Normatively, people should not have to "vote with their feet" because the state they live in is too oppressive. I think you are underestimating the instability associated with having to move and sever existing relationships. Also, this concept can be a double edge sword: Instead of accommodating our neighbor, we might think: "If you don't like it, move."

(2) Positively, very few people are going to actually move based upon policies they are mostly (you would say rationally) ignorant of. So, voting with your feet is going to occur mostly through market mechanisms to the extent that policies within one state create or limit economic opportunities. It should be pointed out that one theoretical danger here is "race to the bottom."

(3) The incentives of policy makers are probably not well-aligned for this to be a major factor. To the extent that voting with your feet occurs (for example, the movement of the auto industry from Michigan to various southern states with little unionization) it tends to occur over time. It is unclear to me that "voting with your feet" actually holds politicians accountable for their decisions.

Overall, I do not deny that there are some advantages to heterogeneous policy. I think there is much to be said for the idea of states are laboratories for policy ideas. But, I think the remedy of "voting with your feet" is both typically quite expensive and thus rarely invoked. More likely, a state will try a policy and see that it works and other states will follow. (California is a great example, where many other states have followed its lead on various policies.) Or not. I actually think this process of imitating policy innovations (or not) is much more viable than the indirect effects that occur due to "voting with your feet."

Finally, there obviously must be limits within which states are allowed to operate. They must maintain a republican form of government (whatever that means) and we would not allow just any sort of innovation. It would be unacceptable for a state to adopt Sharia law in a non-secular manner that violated the First Amendment, for example.

Overall, I think this "vote with your feet" idea that you are advancing is definitely overblown. The feedback due to such effects is too remote to have a really serious impact on policy makers and the remedy is quite disruptive to those who are supposed to benefit.
4.16.2009 2:21am
Ilya Somin:
It also surprises me to see those who appreciate tradition praise the dismantling of community and family, as individuals roam hither and yon in search of employment.

I'm not a conservative, so I don't have any special commitment to "tradition." As for "dismantling" community, you miss the point that the mere threat of being able to move can encourage good policy, thereby obviating the need for "dismantlement." Moreover, people who move often form new ties in their new homes.
4.16.2009 2:27am
Ilya Somin:
(1) Normatively, people should not have to "vote with their feet" because the state they live in is too oppressive. I think you are underestimating the instability associated with having to move and sever existing relationships. Also, this concept can be a double edge sword: Instead of accommodating our neighbor, we might think: "If you don't like it, move."

It would be great if people never had to move because their current states didn't have flawed policies. But real world states aren't likely to be that way. As for instability and relationships, it varies from person to person and situation to situation. For many, moving isn't nearly as bad as that. Even if it is, it is still often better than the alternative.

(2) Positively, very few people are going to actually move based upon policies they are mostly (you would say rationally) ignorant of. So, voting with your feet is going to occur mostly through market mechanisms to the extent that policies within one state create or limit economic opportunities.

Actually, as I discuss in the linked articles, people are unlikely to be rationally ignorant of policies relevant to moving decisions because their decision to move or stay are individually decisive. I agree that policies on economic opportunity will be important to moving decisions, of course.

3) The incentives of policy makers are probably not well-aligned for this to be a major factor. To the extent that voting with your feet occurs (for example, the movement of the auto industry from Michigan to various southern states with little unionization) it tends to occur over time. It is unclear to me that "voting with your feet" actually holds politicians accountable for their decisions.


It may not always punish the politicians who enacted bad policies in the first place. But it does force policy change over the long run, even if the changes are enacted by later politicians. There are many historical examples, including the northern states' improvements of their economic policies in response to migration to the South and West. Moreover some migrations are quite quick (e.g. - the large populatoin shift over just a few years to the South and West in the 1970s and 80s; the shift of blacks to the North in the post-WWII era).
4.16.2009 2:32am
Jonathan Gardner (mail) (www):
What about the diffusion of power? By having a limited federal government and much less limited state governments, it is impossible for any one person or small group of people to amass much power over the entire population. This is one of the checks and balances within the constitution that people often ignore.
4.16.2009 2:35am
Frater Plotter:
I'm not so convinced of the absence of loyalty to states, or at least to regions. There are proud New Englanders, proud Southerners, and (yes) proud Californians.

That doesn't translate as loyalty to governments, for the same reason that authentically patriotic Americans do not place the federal government higher than the national culture in their system of values. Loyalty to a place, a culture, and a society does not translate to obeisance to a government -- at least, not in a free society, it doesn't.

But even as a matter of governance, folks in Massachusetts (at least, those who pay attention to government as well as to baseball) seem to be quite proud of the town-meeting tradition. Likewise, folks in California actually do like having referendums ... although many these days are reconsidering the wisdom of putting constitutional amendments up for simple majority vote.
4.16.2009 2:51am
David Welker (www):

Likewise, folks in California actually do like having referendums ... although many these days are reconsidering the wisdom of putting constitutional amendments up for simple majority vote.


I personally think that direct democracy in California via referendum is mostly a bad idea. I don't think that voters have the level of knowledge needed to make the decisions that they are called on to make.

Should I support bonds for idea X, which I think is a worthy idea. Well, don't I need to know something about the fiscal situation of the state to assess that?

I think these decisions should be left to the legislature (which should ideally be able to make such decisions without a two-thirds majority to pass a budget).
4.16.2009 3:10am
A. Zarkov (mail):
I feel no more loyalty to Washington DC than I do to Kansas, even though I don't live in Kansas, and I have never even set foot in the place. What basis do I have for a strong identification with DC? But I do feel identification with California where I live, and I like my local community which I think is extremely pleasant. Having lived a year right near DC, I found it thoroughly unpleasant, and I'm glad to be back in CA. In fact most everyone in the office I worked in was looking forward to leaving the area when they retired. Having 50 (note I leave out DC) state governments is a big plus as it fragments power. If I move to (say) Oregon, I would identify with that place. More power to the states!
4.16.2009 3:23am
Splunge:
Well, we should not confuse the attitudes of the jetsetting elites with those of the masses.

I have little doubt that those who grew up here, went to college there, did a Junior Year Abroad, then went to graduate school over there and took a visiting lectureship down there before finally settling down out here have little loyalty to the state. But then, they don't have much loyalty to the nation, either. They're just like wealthy Victorians, who feel class (in the Victorians' case measured mostly by money or birth, in the 21st century case measured mostly by educational pedigree or political ideology) is far more important than nationality, much the most significant aspect of culture.

Furthermore, the actual lack of uniformity of state government proves there are significant noneconomic (i.e. social psychological) barriers to internal migration, just as clearly as the existence of a voltage between point A and B proves the resistance to current flow from A to B is significant.
4.16.2009 5:29am
Angus:
Sigh, seems like even in a non-political thread like this some people still feel the need to take political pot shots.

In any case, I think any "vote with your feet" analysis would have to account for a number of personal factors in addition to a rational "state vs. state" analysis. For example, I pretty thoroughly dislike the southern state where I've lived the past several years (I grew up in the south, so not just an anti-southern bias). The state leaders are stupid, and the hot-button social issues popular here drive me batty. There are several states with superior policies (my guess is 49 of them), but I would hesitate to move to another state because I've made a group of close friends who I'd hate to lose.
4.16.2009 6:31am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I don't understand the people who point out that it's not a costless transaction to move from one state to another... who said it was supposed to be? It's like arguing that we should get rid of 9 out of 10 different varieties of peanut butter in the supermarket because people probably have emotional attachments to the brand they're already eating.

And of course, no one's talking about the fact that we're all eating different brands right now and we'll all want the supermarket to adopt our brand as the one it keeps.
4.16.2009 7:14am
cboldt (mail):
FWIW, a similar "vote with the feet" impetus would exist even if there were no state governments creating differences between states. Those who relocate from time to time almost universally research the differences between local communities in an area that surrounds their new work location, in order to balance the local tax structure against the quality of schools, parks, and other public facilities.
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Those who "oppose" federalism (scare quote, because not all criticism amounts to opposition) tend to put a high value on social homogeneity and conformity. "We're all the same," "one size fits all," etc.
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As states fail economically (e.g., Cali), I expect arguments to surface to the effect that in order to professionalize (and avoid financial catastrophe), one must federalize (meaning to give the power to the federal government). At some point, state boundaries and differences will be nothing but historical artifacts, much like the Lincoln Highway or Route 66.
4.16.2009 7:30am
Sarah (mail) (www):
Ask any Ohioan what they think of the idea of having a government just like Michigan's or Illinois'. Ask them what they think about the idea of moving to West Virginia. Just because the author doesn't have a strong attachment to Richmond when he lives five miles from the state border, doesn't mean people in general don't have strong attachments to their states.

And one size does not fit all. Many of my California friends and family would hate nearly everything about Ohio. Some of them think I'm nuts for putting up with it. On the other hand, there's a reason I moved away from the state of my birth, and it has very little to do with my attachment (or lack thereof) to that state or its government.

To put it another way: if Arnold decided to run for governor of Ohio, raised the car registration fee from the $50 it is now to the ~$450 I was paying in LA, took the sales tax rate from 6.75% to 10.25%, and (through his awesome magical powers) transformed the legislature into a one-party body, I'd move out of Ohio just about as fast as I got out of CA. Federalism works.
4.16.2009 7:45am
Simon P:
Do either of your linked papers contain any empirical evidence that "foot voting" actually occurs at levels sufficient to make competitive federalism an accurate description of how the states interact?

Your theory is plausible, but it doesn't easily explain why the U.S. population has distributed itself like it has. Take, for example, something like local sales and income taxes. That seems like the sort of local policy a person contemplating a move is likely to familiarize himself with, but our nation's three largest cities all have highly burdensome tax regimes. One might argue that this reflects a net benefit, in terms of social services provided by those cities, but these are likely to be less familiar to people contemplating a move (save for things like public transit), much less a reason to move. And so it seems at least superficially the case that people choose to move to higher-tax jurisdictions, despite the fact that they'll be taxed at higher rates there. Why do they do so?

I also wonder how you'd account for interstate externalities. A person considering a move to work in NYC, for example, might choose to locate in New Jersey, in order to avoid at least some of the costs of living under NYC law, while still enjoying many of its benefits. Have they "voted with their feet" for the NJ regime? People might "vote for their feet" for certain environmental control regimes by living not within states but downwind of them (while "voting against" other states by living within them, where the predominant effects of their pollution occur downwind). In what ways does their choice of location represent a "vote" in favor of which jurisdictions, and how could we tell?

The cost of moving is something that has to be taken into account. Those costs amount to a kind of "transaction cost" that are likely to make any competitive federalist system less efficient. Moreover, and I think this is fundamentally problematic for your theory, at least some of these costs have nothing to do with the nature of our federalism or relative benefits of different legal regimes. I think Angus's comment is illustrative of a common hindrance to interstate movement. It costs money to move, but moving also means giving up old friends, old jobs, even old lifestyles. Cognitive biases also probably loom large in this area. We might expect there to be strong status quo and availability biases tipping moving decisions, for example.

Finally, I think there's kind of a fundamental disconnect between your argument and the one that Feeley and Rubin are making. If all the states were essentially equivalent apart from their regulatory choices, then your theory would be most plausible. But, of course, they aren't. Local regulatory choices might influence the choice to locate in one of either Iowa or Nebraska (both farm states with low population density and smaller-sized population hubs), but there are a ton of non-regulatory factors influencing big-state/small-state, north-state/south-state, and east-coast/west-coast choices, to say nothing of the individual distinctive cultures many states have. That makes it more difficult for "pure" competitive federalism to work, and it weakens the power of your theory, especially if inter-regional movement is more common than intra-regional movement.

But that doesn't seem relevant to Feeley and Rubin's thesis, does it? Their point is just about political identification with state government and about who should be making what decisions for whom. In other words, that people don't feel any particular attachment to, say, California, doesn't mean that competitive federalism is more likely to work with respect to California's regulatory choices. People are still likely to move to CA even if they don't like California's regulatory choices, because they like its culture, its weather, they want to get into entertainment or technology, etc.

Ultimately, I'm with you on this view of federalism. I think diverse state approaches to government gives us plenty of opportunities to learn about what works and what sorts of problems arise when we try to deal with certain problems in certain ways. But I am skeptical that the way we learn from competitive federalism comes through this kind of economic, "vote with your feet" mechanism. I don't see any evidence that it occurs, and I'm skeptical that a fully explanatory theory would give us reason to believe that it should occur.
4.16.2009 9:00am
Gabriel McCall (mail):
Declining identification with the state is both a result of, and an argument against, increased federal power- it's hardly an argument to hasten the process.

As more and more policy is set at the federal level, there's less and less difference between the states. We no longer have the "laboratories of democracy" once envisioned, and thus little reason to prefer one over another. If states could more meaningfully define themselves as significantly different from each other, people would have a lot more reason to care which state they lived in, and would identify more strongly with states which better suited them.
4.16.2009 9:07am
rick.felt:
Does Declining Popular Identification with State Governments Undermine the a Case for Federalism?

There, fixed it for you.

There are several arguments in favor of federalism, and the vote-with-your-feet argument is only one of them. I'm partial to the fifty-laboratories argument. Even if the barriers to relocation are too high to see much movement in response to policy changes in a state, federalism permits one state to tinker with its laws without directly affecting the rest of America.
4.16.2009 9:11am
Nick P.:
I'll echo Simon P's question about empirical evidence for foot voting due to state policies. My wife and I moved because of schooling and stayed where we are now largely because of climate and a local church that we like. Perhaps if US States were like East and West Germany during the cold war, I'd move due to government policy, but the differences between state governments just aren't that great. AFAIK, all of my friends live where they do for reasons that are only tenuously linked to government policy.
4.16.2009 9:14am
PubliusFL:
With a few exceptions such as Mormon identification with Utah and native Hawaiians' affiliation with Hawaii, Feeley and Rubin are largely correct in concluding that modern Americans feel little loyalty to their states.

Haven't met many Texans, eh?
4.16.2009 9:24am
cboldt (mail):
-- I'll echo Simon P's question about empirical evidence for foot voting due to state policies. --
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See business relocations. I think the individual relocations are very small in number, although I know of a few people who fled a New England state and took 6 month +1 day a year residence in FL in order to avoid the income taxes associated with being a New England resident.
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See sanctuary cities, which offer a "vote with your feet magnet" for people who prefer to avoid be hassled to leave the country.
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Working people who are indifferent to moving to a higher tax jurisdiction are usually wooed with an increase in salary, rendering a net-benefit to the mover.
4.16.2009 9:28am
pete (mail) (www):

By contrast, Feeley and Rubin claim, most modern Americans identify as "Americans" first and foremost and have little or no loyalty to their states.


The authors haven't been to Texas before, have they?

I am foot voter who grew up in California and decided to leave California permanently when I started college in Texas. It is much less crowded/smoggy in most of the cities (excepting Houston), much, much cheaper to live in, and I like the state government more which barely taxes me, doesn't much bother most people, is very business friendly, and is no where near bankruptcy and has a balanced budget.

Or as the common Texas bumber sticer states "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could!"
4.16.2009 9:31am
therut (mail):
Tell that to someone from TEXAS . They are wrong. The people in the more rural areas have much more connection with their state. Family tradition is stronger. Cities destroy this type of thing. My family lives on the land that was settled a few hundred years ago and none of us have moved and never will. As the saying goes "The land is in my blood". Decoration at the cemetery will be held soon and will be a time for old friends and families to gather. The place was started by my Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather and bears the family name. We are not leaving anytime soon. Everyone knows everyone in the town of about 100. I can travel the world but will always return home cause that is my little place in the world. And it is true there is no place like home.
4.16.2009 9:41am
corneille1640 (mail):

It would be great if people never had to move because their current states didn't have flawed policies. But real world states aren't likely to be that way. As for instability and relationships, it varies from person to person and situation to situation. For many, moving isn't nearly as bad as that. Even if it is, it is still often better than the alternative.

I can't necessarily speak for David Welker or the others who question Mr. Somin's enthusiasm for voting with one's feet, but my concern isn't that he is necessarily wrong, but that he greatly underestimates the costs and overestimates the benefits of doing so.
4.16.2009 9:44am
Anonymous Hoosier:
IIRC, there are a number of regular and occasional posters on this very blog who, like me, incorporate state identification into their handles. As others note above, quite a number of states have residents and ex-pats who exhibit a profound loyalty (and yes, this extends beyond merely to the sports teams, although those can provide an important symbol). In my (non-scientific, but interested) observation, the top 10 states in loyalty are an interesting bunch, and it transcends region, the red/blue divide, the coastal/flyover divide, and most other patterns:
- Texas ('nuff said)
- California (but often, only to "the real California," defined as northern, southern, or inland)
- New Jersey (natives only)
- West Virginia
- Alaska
- Indiana
- Montana (although hostile to wealthy newcomers)
- Tennessee
- Utah (contra Feeley and Rubin, I would say this is not just a Mormon phenomenon)
- Maine (remarkably, by both lifetime Mainers and newcomers)

Of course, this leaves off the fact that a lot of people have substituted city/urban area loyalty for state loyalty, particularly in states with rival cities (see, e.g., Ohio, Missouri) or a dominant city removed from the rest of the state (e.g. New York, Massachusetts, pre-Katrina Louisiana).

The lack of loyalty to the state government, in my view, is explained by: a) those with the most state loyalty are demographically the least likely to want to rely on government of any type to solve their problems; b) the lack of federalism has, in practice, pushed aside state governments such that few are seen as providing anything useful; and c) Americans' overall cynicism about government naturally extends to state governments as well, as those tend to still be remote enough that few know anyone actually involved in the legislature or the governor's office.
4.16.2009 9:51am
blcjr (mail):
Well, several people have already beat me to the punch: ask a Texan. More pointedly, look at all the state legislatures than have been lately passing resolutions reaffirming states' rights under the 10th Amendment.

The fact that people move around says NOTHING about the case for federalism. People have been moving around as long we've been here. If that had not been true, we'd still all be east of the Appalachians. Are we to suppose that the relentless drive westward was because people were unhappy with federalism?

What I poor excuse for scholarship.
4.16.2009 9:54am
Simon P:
cboldt: What about business relocations? I might accept business relocations as a proxy for individual relocations, in an attempt to measure whether particular governmental changes prompts a "voting with your feet" response. The rationale here would be that businesses will want to move where the labor is cheaper and the customers more plentiful.

But you also assert that "individual relocations are very small in number," which means that you're talking about business relocations not as proxies for individual relocations, but as demonstrative per se of some other relative value in governmental regimes. But such a measure would be both over- and under-inclusive, with respect to the overall value of a state's regime. It would be over-inclusive in that business relocations would track not just beneficial regime changes, but flat-out exproprietary ones, as where states hand out taxpayer funds in order to induce businesses to locate or remain in-state. It would be under-inclusive in that we wouldn't expect business relocations to track changes in governmental areas not directly pertaining to their economic well-being. Take, for example, changes in criminal law or public school management (apart from property-tax assessments).

As for "sanctuary cities," again the problem of empirical evidence remains. Are sanctuary cities effective? What examples of sanctuary cities do you have in mind? Why don't we see more of them?

The "net-benefit" argument, with respect to tax regimes, is non-responsive. That businesses may increase base salaries in an attempt to woo workers into high-tax jurisdictions does not tell us anything about the viability of the "vote with your feet" hypothesis.
4.16.2009 9:56am
Cornellian (mail):
I've lived in three states and I like the one I'm in now (California)
though I like the state a lot more than I like the state government.
That being said, I'm a lot more loyal to being employed than I am to a
particular state - I go where the work is.
4.16.2009 10:13am
B Roy (mail):
As a native Texan, I of course have always found loyalty to states to be a fascinating subject. When I was at UT-Austin, I was always struck by how many people, left and right would tell me with a straight face that Texas had the right to secede anytime it wanted. When I would point out the silliness of this, I usually got genuine argument. I remember joking to several friends of mine about the "Hippie Trail of Tears" that would occur in Austin if anything like this ever came about.

Over the years I have lived in several other states, and often jokingly, I have asked about this. The strongest reactions I have gotten have been in California, which clearly has a lot of this sort of sentiment, but I have also seen it in Minnesota, Alaska, and even New Mexico. Interestingly, in North Cali, and Southern Oregon, they even have there own rebewl sentiment against their own state with the whole "State of Jefferson" thing.

I think the main exception are places like Northern Virginia or the Seattle area, which notably lack this have so few natives.
4.16.2009 10:15am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
"I can't necessarily speak for David Welker or the others who question Mr. Somin's enthusiasm for voting with one's feet, but my concern isn't that he is necessarily wrong, but that he greatly underestimates the costs and overestimates the benefits of doing so."

I wouldn't say that... after all, he's staying right where he is. The fact that people DO move, however, shows that for some people the benefits outweigh the costs.
4.16.2009 10:24am
cboldt (mail):
-- cboldt: What about business relocations? ... The rationale here would be that businesses will want to move where the labor is cheaper and the customers more plentiful.
But you also assert that "individual relocations are very small in number,"
--
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I meant to differentiate population relocation into two groups. One relocation based on business moving, which is nearly always driven by cost/tax consideration, and I agree, labor cost is a significant factor.
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What I had in mind with "individual location are small in number" was people who are roughly able to choose a state (i.e., they have a job in either/any location), and decide to leave one state because they don't the government policies there.
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I think the "individual choosing to vote with feet" phenomenon (a person who is free to individually choose among states) is trivially small; but it exists.
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I don't know or care if "sanctuary cities" are effective. I simply posit that people who might be hassled to leave the country would prefer to live in a city where that risk is vanishingly small. They are voting with their feet on account of government policy.
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The "net-benefit" argument, with respect to tax regimes, represents what I see as people who ought NOT be cast into the "individual chooses to relocate" group [i.e., federalism works, see people choosing between states on the basis of state government policies].
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The short version of my view is that states ought to be concerned as to how well they can attract business, and can afford to be indifferent as to attracting individuals. The individuals will follow the money. Except for small categories of individual (homeless works best in warm climes; sanctuary city is attractive for some; a few people reject states out of spite; I reject some states for their gun laws) individuals are entirely indifferent as to state government policy differences.
4.16.2009 10:26am
Roger Ford (mail):
Is it really right to say that weak identification with a state does not "undermine[] the case for federalism"? It seems to me that what you're really arguing is an entirely different case. Feeley and Rubin would argue that federalism is justified when people identify with regions of a nation because it permits those regions to prevent other regions from repressing them. You argue that federalism is justified because it creates competition between regions to attract citizens and businesses. But your point doesn't weaken Feeley and Rubin's; it just offers a different justification. Weak identification with states reduces the persuasiveness of Feeley and Rubin's argument while increasing the persuasiveness of yours; that undermines one case for federalism, while strengthening another.
4.16.2009 10:28am
Rich B. (mail):
Excuse me if I think this entire discussion is completely ridiculous.

For me, the biggest impact of Federalism on my life is that I am a member of the Pennsylvania Bar. The fact that individual states require lawyers to pass their own bar exams in order to practice has essentially "trapped" me in Pennsylvania. (Luckily, I like it here.) The only place I could move to is Washington, D.C., where they don't require a separate bar exam.

So, it is Federalism ITSELF that is preventing me from "voting with my feet." Separate states with separate laws are making me stay.
4.16.2009 10:32am
pete (mail) (www):

As a native Texan, I of course have always found loyalty to states to be a fascinating subject. When I was at UT-Austin, I was always struck by how many people, left and right would tell me with a straight face that Texas had the right to secede anytime it wanted. When I would point out the silliness of this, I usually got genuine argument.


I have heard those arguments as well from my fellow Texans and note that the Governor Perry was just making that claim the other day. There is also the popular idea that Texas can legally seperate into 5 states if it wants to.

I have even met one person who believed in the whole Republic of Texas philosophy and I am pretty sure he was not actually crazy. For those unfamiliar with this idea, there is a fringe theory that Texas never really legally joined the union and is still an independent republic under occupation by the U.S. government.
4.16.2009 10:40am
MarkField (mail):

So, it is Federalism ITSELF that is preventing me from "voting with my feet." Separate states with separate laws are making me stay.


The sad thing is that if posters here had even the slightest familiarity with the history of Europe, they would have noticed this point long ago.
4.16.2009 10:46am
PubliusFL:
Anonymous Hoosier: IIRC, there are a number of regular and occasional posters on this very blog who, like me, incorporate state identification into their handles.

Ironically, I started using this handle on this blog when I was living in Florida due to military service and have just never changed it, but I am actually a Californian and identify strongly with California. I'm not happy with my state government, but I love my state. I take some pride in being at least a 7th-generation Californian through my maternal grandmother.
4.16.2009 10:56am
rick.felt:
Rich B.:

For me, the biggest impact of Federalism on my life is that I am a member of the Pennsylvania Bar. The fact that individual states require lawyers to pass their own bar exams in order to practice has essentially "trapped" me in Pennsylvania. (Luckily, I like it here.) The only place I could move to is Washington, D.C., where they don't require a separate bar exam.

Perhaps you should consult this chart.

Pennsylvania has bar reciprocity with 28 states, plus DC. Also, if you can't pass the New Jersey or Maryland bar exams in your sleep, there's something wrong with you.
4.16.2009 11:09am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Just thinkin' here.

The states which do least for their citizens--in terms of government expenditures for the ordinary citizen--are the ones, generally, which have the most loyal citizens. Of course, this generally includes the South and Southwest with different cultures from, say, Rhode Island or Ohio.

Publius, in my experience, is an exception.

But, if I'm right, it ain't money and so it must be something else.
4.16.2009 11:09am
DiverDan (mail):
So many comments here regarding the "vote with your feet" concept do not mention that the barriers to moving out of state, i.e., career ties, social ties, home ownership and the difficulties of moving accumulated possessions, etc., start out fairly low for young people just fininshing their education and starting out in working life, then build slowly over the years. Yes, there may be family ties that induce a 20 or 21 year old to remain in his home state, but those will only rarely be strong enough to overcome significant differences in economic opportunities. Even for a 25 year old who hasn't had time to accumulate a lot of social and career ties, moving out of state is fairly easy, while it can be very difficult for the 50 year old married person with a wife, children, a home, etc.

As a result, while "voting with one's feet" may indeed be a slow phenomenon, the first to go are often those the State can least afford to lose, the young, bright, educated and ambitious new college graduates who see economic opportunities elsewhere as superior to those offered by their home state. I'd be very interested to see a demographic study for those states, like Michigan and Ohio, that have lost population over the last two decades, to see whether the young were the earliest out the door.
4.16.2009 11:18am
Redlands (mail):
Perhaps if more deference was paid to federalism we'd have more power to affect closer-to-home political decisions; the fear of centralized power thing.
4.16.2009 11:25am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
I think most Americans never travel enough to understand how different states are. You don't get this sense by passing through or going on a business trip. You only get this sense by spending significant time there. Having lived in Utah, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington...

But it is true that the most able to vote with feet are the young folks out to establish themselves.
4.16.2009 11:45am
SeaDrive:
Few enough people can name their congressman and senators. How many can name their state reps?

I think there are many issues that should be left to the states, but I'm not really too comfortable. There have been too many wacky, and bad actions by state legislatures.
4.16.2009 12:24pm
Houston Lawyer:
As far as empirical evidence of voting with your feet, just look at the census trends over the last few decades. High growth in business friendly states and low growth in others. The Houston metropolitan area has picked up about a million people just since the year 2000. People can't seem to get out of California fast enough.
4.16.2009 12:34pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I believe that California's biggest losses to outsourcing is to Texas, not China.
I live in Michigan and have two children and three nieces. Of the five, three moved out of the state. Two went for adventure and jobs to CA. One of the two likes LA, the LAUSD and is marrying there and will probably stay. One changed careers, redid her education and is now in North Carolina due to a shortage of teaching jobs in MI. She has found a SO, coincidentally from MI, so she/they may return if the jobs thing turns around.
One went to CA for work, not adventure, and got to Texas as fast as she could, is marrying there and will probably stay.
One has never left, having found a job with a firm which can be placed in any small town, especially where prevailing wages are low and the countryside not far away.
One left by assignment, returned after a couple of years, changed occupations and hopes not to leave.
So we have two of five probably gone for good. One of five gone until circumstances do a major shift. Two hoping to stay, and their current situations seem to make that pretty likely.
Tough? Yeah. But having relations around the country isn't bad for us homebodies, either.
4.16.2009 12:59pm
loki13 (mail):

People can't seem to get out of California fast enough.


US Census:

Population Change, US, 2000-2007
7.2%

Pop Change, California, 2000-2007
7.9%

Pop Change, Texas, 2000-2007
14.6%

But.... absolute change (# of people)
California:
+2681567

Texas:
+3052560

Texas gained 3 million people in that time, while California only gained 2.7 million people. Clearly you know exactly what you're talking about.
4.16.2009 1:03pm
pete (mail) (www):
One thing people have not mentioned yet is retired people voting with their feet because of state taxes since staying for a job is no longer a requirement. My inlaws have retired in Arkansas and have now moved to Texas partly to be closer to family, but also partly because there is no state income or inheritance tax here. My parents are planning to do the same in a few years when they retire from California.

Lots of military people try to make Texas their legal residence for the same reason while serving abroad and end up retiring here.
4.16.2009 1:16pm
mtlassen:
Bad premise which should be rejected on its face. To believe it, as others here have pointed out, requires that Texans don't care about Texas, folks from New York wouldn't bother to correct assertions about them being from New Jersey, and Tennesseans really don't mind being mistaken for Georgians.

This is ridiculous.
4.16.2009 1:40pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

because the state they live in is too oppressive


"oppressive" as a description of any of the 50 states?

In the Jim Crow south you could reasonbly say a state was oppressive but not now.

(Even conservative states like Texas have Austin or Georgia has Atlanta for those liberals who think conservative = oppressive.)
4.16.2009 1:51pm
PubliusFL:
Richard Aubrey:


The states which do least for their citizens--in terms of government expenditures for the ordinary citizen--are the ones, generally, which have the most loyal citizens. Of course, this generally includes the South and Southwest with different cultures from, say, Rhode Island or Ohio.

Publius, in my experience, is an exception.

But, if I'm right, it ain't money and so it must be something else.


I think you're right. Like I alluded to, my attachment to my state is in spite of state government expenditures rather than because of it. It's not money, it's something else -- family connections, the climate, the geography, the culture. I've lived in a lot of other states. Florida wasn't bad, and I could see liking the state government a lot more (no income tax) than California's, but the place is humid and so darn FLAT. Michigan was too snowy and it was hard to find decent Mexican food.
4.16.2009 1:59pm
ohwilleke:
The case for having multiple layers of government with different jobs, isn't quite the same as the sovereignty oriented argument for federalism.

A large class of benefits of federalism can be summed up as mitigating the downsides of government failure, by isolating the incidents where it arises and preventing them from happening at the same time.

If California's legislature is gridlocked and can't decided on a budget leading to a government shutdown, the rest of the nation, and the federal government functions in California, and local government functions in California, go on. If there is a hotly contested Senate election in Minnesota that requires a lengthy recount and court action, the U.S. Senate can still function and make decisions, and state and local government can continue indifferent to these problems. The fact that redistricting is done at the state level by bodies with differing partisan allegiances limits the national impact of gerrymandering on policy in a way that mathematics has shown is very powerful. The electoral college creates a system that leaves uncertainty only in the rare Bush v. Gore case where the vote count in the marginal state or two is very close, and even then, limits the investigation to the election events in a single state.

The high level of decentralization of law enforcement, with the vast majority of law enforcement officials employment by electorally autonomous local governments, and most of the rest of the criminal justice system handled in a state process, while federal officials remain as indpendent actors in the system, makes it hard for corrupt forces to effectively take over the criminal justice system as they have at times in places with more centralized administrative of law enforcement like Mexico and Italy.

But, given the lack of strong state identity, there is considerable room to revisit which decisions should be made nationally and which should be made centrally. Countries like Canada and Germany centralize private law and substantive criminal law to a much greater extent than the U.S. does, while decentralizing fiscal power to a great extent.

Decentralized sales taxation is difficult to administer in a national economy and creates types of tax competition that don't obvious serve a useful purpose (e.g. favoring internet sales to out of state vendors over brick and mortar vendors). The strong in state preferences in higher education tuition are also signs that state government may not be the best place to house higher education funding.

Legislative competition is probably a weaker justification that it is given credit for. While there are 51 laboratories of Democracy, typically there are one to four versions of the law on a topic at any given time. The Uniform Law process indicates who little states care about putting their market on their laws. The variation in state legislation, moreover, is not very systemic. A streamlined probate process for example, rarely evidences an across the board political preference to low levels of red tape. Variations in state laws are typically mismashes that are more a product of individual action than popular differences in opinion. There are a handful of issues, like the death penalty, that seem to have a regional character, but most state law isn't terribly partisan.
4.16.2009 1:59pm
Putting Two and Two...:

I'm not a conservative, so I don't have any special commitment to "tradition." As for "dismantling" community, you miss the point that the mere threat of being able to move can encourage good policy, thereby obviating the need for "dismantlement." Moreover, people who move often form new ties in their new homes.


Yeah, that's why the Rult Belt has some of the best governments in the country. And how does one go about finding a new grandmother for the kids?

I'm not sure why a response to my comment warranted so many quotation marks...
4.16.2009 2:19pm
Houston Lawyer:
Here is the census data on State-by-State growth since 2000.

If you look at the most highly regulated states, you can see that their growth has been almost nonexistent. The more free states are growing rapidly.

California actually lost population in the last period reported after growing swiftly in the years before. Look for that trend to continue given the current state of things. It would look at lot worse if illegal immigration were excluded.
4.16.2009 2:36pm
Perseus (mail):
Texas gained 3 million people in that time, while California only gained 2.7 million people. Clearly you know exactly what you're talking about.

What if you exclude illegal immigrants (and their issue)?

More to the point, census data from 2000-4 show that California had a net migration outflow of about 100,000 residents per year (the second highest after NY) while Texas had a net inflow of 36,000 residents per year. See here.
4.16.2009 3:28pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Perseus.
You think Loki didn't know this?
4.16.2009 3:34pm
Calderon:
Besides voting with your feet, you can vote to separate your area from another. For example, good ole Cook County has the highest sales tax in the nation. The population of three areas recently voted to secede from Cook County to avoid these taxes and the other problems with our corrupt locale. I know there have been periodic discussions about California splitting into 3 states.

The problems is there are significant barriers to these kinds of divisions, including constitutional ones to splitting up California. Similarly, all of Cook County has to vote to let the three areas split off, and presumably "we" have little incentive to do that and lose the tax base. So one way to avoid some of the costs of "voting with your feet" would be to allow a hyperfederalism that carves up existing political entities, though political officials have a vested interest in opposing that.
4.16.2009 3:39pm
PubliusFL:
Calderon:

Besides voting with your feet, you can vote to separate your area from another. For example, good ole Cook County has the highest sales tax in the nation. The population of three areas recently voted to secede from Cook County to avoid these taxes and the other problems with our corrupt locale. I know there have been periodic discussions about California splitting into 3 states.


In the same category, there's the San Fernando Valley's periodic attempts to secede from Los Angeles. The last time around, in 2002, a ballot measure to that effect was supported by a majority of SFV residents but defeated by the rest of LA's voters.
4.16.2009 4:00pm
loki13 (mail):

Here is the census data on State-by-State growth since 2000.

If you look at the most highly regulated states, you can see that their growth has been almost nonexistent. The more free states are growing rapidly.

California actually lost population in the last period reported after growing swiftly in the years before.


I looked at the tables. Not only do they accurately support the same point I made, supra, but they do not support your assertion. In every time period listed, California gained in population (I am assuming that 36.756 million is greater than 36.377 million, unless you are using the new math taught in Texas schools).

As for the other point about illegal immigration, without getting into census counting methods, I agree completely- Texas clearly doesn't have any illegal immigrants that might be swaying their numbers.

But this is a petty argument. In the end, the only thing that matters is this- I don't have to live in Houston.
4.16.2009 5:39pm
loki13 (mail):
(as a quick aside, the whole Kerrville/San Antonio/Austin corridor is beautiful, and there's some darn fine BBQ in the middle of the yellow rose, but until they use the oil money to put a dome over Houston, having someone from Houston criticize California is a moment of high comedy unmatched since Charlton Heston played a Mexican Federale in Touch of Evil).
4.16.2009 6:07pm
Randy R. (mail):
Richard: "The states which do least for their citizens--in terms of government expenditures for the ordinary citizen--are the ones, generally, which have the most loyal citizens."

I hail from Buffalo, NY, a city that is very good at exporting its citizens. We have very high taxes, some of the most imcompetent political leaders in the world, an outdated government structure and a poor economy. However, few people move out of here because of any of that, except the last part. People move not because they choose to, but because they are forced to.

One can argue (probably correctly) that state and local gov't policies have led to a poor economy, so indirectly people move away because of the politics. But there is tremendous loyalty to the region that I see only in certain other places in the country, like Texas or Virginia. Most who have moved away would move back in a heartbeat if they could find a decent job with a future. Heck, most would settle for a decent job.

But the loyalty is to the region, meaning western New York. The rest of the state we don't care about. We have as much in common with New Yorkers as Oregonians do, except that we share a state gov't.

We do have high taxes, but we also have high gov't expenditures and there are tons of services that we get that many other states don't offer. The education system is first rate (except for the city itself, but even there, there are pockets of excellence).

So I would disagree somewhat -- the state and local gov't does a lot for Buffalo, and the loyalty is strong, but only to the local region. (Not to the gov't itself, to be clear).

I don't think this has any bearing on federalism -- it simply isn't an issue around here. No one remembers the Civil War, so we don't care about it at all. No one wants to secede from the Union -- too many people here have vets in the family that fought in America's wars to even think about such a thing. We may despise our politicians, and yours, and even that national leaders (don't ever mention any Bush or Reagan around here). But everyone knows they have to play by the rules.

Unlike those weird Texans.....
4.16.2009 7:06pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Randy R.
Reminds me of a thought piece of some years ago. Somebody said that the human mind can't wrap itself around a state, even Rhode Island.
What we needed he called "shires". I guess they were to be larger than several counties--at least those east of the Mississippi. Out west, one would probably do.
Each one would have its flag, its little army (I think he said), and I suppose would be dumb enough to have its own customs laws.
Michigan's Upper Peninsula is said to have that kind of loyalty. I hear it from expats all the time. What do they have above the bridge? "berryin' and assistance" one told me.
Joe Heywood,a fraternity brother, writes of conservation officers in the UP (Woods Cop series), and from what he tells me, poaching is the only growth industry. So it would be a cultural loyalty.
I am pretty sure that the west side of the lower peninsula has a loyal following, since I hear it all the time from folks who've moved in. They're prosperous, for Michigan.
And Vermont is said to have a Northeast Kingdom, whatever that is, and California an Inland Empire, ditto. Question is whether the denizens of these nebulous entities have a group identity and a loyalty, in some fashion.
4.16.2009 9:01pm
Perseus (mail):
In every time period listed, California gained in population...

But you neglected the more relevant point that people are voting with their feet and moving out of California while people are moving into places like Texas.
4.16.2009 11:35pm
loki13 (mail):

In every time period listed, California gained in population...

But you neglected the more relevant point that people are voting with their feet and moving out of California while people are moving into places like Texas.


Because I have better things to do than engage with people that make dishonest arguments. Just as Houston Lawyer made a claim unsupported by the document he provided, so do you provide a claim while omitting the major points of the document you cite-

1. In terms of % of population, the number of people is negligible.

2. More importantly, as the report points out, this was a major reversal from the numbers in the 90s. So... uh, what? California became that much more desirable from 2000-04 than it was in the 90s, which kept people from moving from there to the other wester states (the point of the report)... that's your point? Really? I would take time to contrast this limited report with the overall population numbers but I have limited time (opportunity cost) and it's only worth it when people aren't completely quoting things out of context.
4.17.2009 1:24am
Chris Roberts:

The strong in state preferences in higher education tuition are also signs that state government may not be the best place to house higher education funding.


Otherwise intelligent observations, but local funding of education protects an individual's ability to attend school in or near his hometown. Without that option he might not be able to attend at all.

Federalism protects an individual's ability to live in a society that mirrors his values, while allowing others the same right: treehuggers in Boulder, Mormons in Provo, queers in San Francisco. The real hazard begins when people try to forcibly export their political vision, via the federal government or its courts, to every other jurisdiction in the nation. Federalism maintains the peace - at least for those who are happy when they are happy.

And federalism matters more than ever - just look at the last 3 presidential election maps. People are sorting themselves out by political belief.

Texas gained 3 million people in that time, while California only gained 2.7 million people. Clearly you know exactly what you're talking about.

California is actually in net loss territory for the decade (or longer) on native born Americans. Those people voting with their feet? They're voting for California over Mexico and China, not Colorado.
4.17.2009 3:44am
Chris Roberts:
California, Net Population change

Loki: Note particularly the two graphs, and that they refer to average *annual* population changes for the 2 decades. A net total of nearly 4 million native-born Americans have left California since 1990.
4.17.2009 3:57am
Perseus (mail):
Actually, the point of the report is that people are continuing to move away from the Midwest, Northeast, and Pacific West (though at a more modest rate) to the South (and Mountain regions).

So... uh, what? California became that much more desirable from 2000-04 than it was in the 90s, which kept people from moving from there to the other wester states (the point of the report)...

California became less undesirable when the economy picked up, but the trend has since reversed with out-migration increasing substantially (to over 250K) as the state increasingly resembles a banana republic.

I would take time to contrast this limited report with the overall population numbers but I have limited time (opportunity cost) and it's only worth it when people aren't completely quoting things out of context.

The overall population increase is the result of births and immigration. That California is more attractive to the worst off in Mexico and Central America I readily admit.
4.17.2009 4:18am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
My daughter lived in Needles, CA for a bit.
Seems the prime industry was welfare, Needles being close to two low-welfare states, AZ and NV. Across the river in Mohave, the town was booming, so to speak, in the context of the high desert. Much more economic activity than in Needles. In fact, the Needlers found it paid quite well to go to Mohave to buy gas without the CA tax.
So, yeah, people voted with their feet according to their personal interests. Little laboratories, indeed.
4.17.2009 3:01pm

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